Hiring for Technology in Libraries
In my career I have frequently been involved in hiring library technology employees. My experience ranges from being the sole person to interview and hire non-exempt staff, to serving on and chairing search committees for professional exempt and tenure-track faculty librarian technology positions. Sometimes others seeking to hire for such positions will ask my advice. Here then, is my opinion on how to hire the best library technologist you possibly can.
It goes without saying you will be looking for someone with technology skills. The big question however is what technology skills? I have seen too many advertisements asking for someone with what seems every conceivable technology skill currently in use. It is almost as if those hiring either want one person that can do the work of four, or they really do not know what they are asking for. It is very important therefore, even if you are not a technology expert yourself, to do your homework and make sure your library technology position and advertisement are focused on the correct technology skills that are really needed to accomplish your goals for the position.
What about education? Should you always automatically seek to hire only those with Computer Science or related degrees? That seems like the logical thing to do, but my experience has shown the answer to be a resounding NO. Some of the best technology experts I have ever worked with had degrees in History, English, Music, and even Theatre. Their technology skills were mostly self-taught except for the occasional college or technology training class they may have taken. Understand I am not saying it is better to hire Liberal Arts majors over a Computer Science majors. But those who excel in technology without benefit of formal education and training do so because they have a unique natural talent or a very self-motivating love for the work or both.
Experience is always a big plus and I always make it a point to give due credit for it. However, it is worth taking a risk on someone with no experience if they are great in other ways. But, technology changes rapidly so people working with technology must be willing to change rapidly with it. Documented experience can provide proof that someone is either comfortable with such constant change or are resistant to it. Pay close attention therefore to what a candidate’s experience says about them in this regard.
Above all the candidate characteristics just addressed, the one remaining I consider most important is attitude. I like to see a true love of technology. So much so that a candidate is self-motivated to track technology trends and experiment with the latest new device at their earliest opportunity. I also like to see a complete lack of fear. The right candidate is going to immediately pick up a new piece of technology and start pushing buttons (well, if technology still had much in the way of physical buttons) without worry they will not break something they will not be able to fix. But above all else, I look for someone with a positive attitude toward technology and technology users. While it is natural and desirable to look critically at technology and how it is used, the most productive approach is to always focus on what is right instead of everything that is wrong.
In summary, be sure you know what technology skills are needed for the library technology position you are hiring for and have at least a basic understanding of them. Know how to describe those skills when writing a position description. Know how to ask for those skills in a job advertisement. And know how to interview for them when hiring. If you have technology skills equal to or greater than the position you are hiring for then great. If not, be sure to include such a technology expert, or at least consult regularly with one throughout the hiring process. Seek candidates with ideal educational credentials, but do not be afraid to stretch your definition of ideal. And more than anything seek candidates with an obvious love for technology that are neither afraid of it nor afraid to be humbled by it, and who see technology users as people sometimes in need of help and expert, professional guidance.
David Ratledge is Associate Professor and Head, Systems at The University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville. firstname.lastname@example.org